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  • Adam Schell

The Back Burner



I want to start our time together today by talking about someone that just about all of us have at least heard of before, and that’s a man named Martin Luther. But Martin Luther is like a lot of other people in church history, he’s someone that we’ve heard of but we may not know why he’s so important.


So it’s kind of like if you hear the name Augustine of Hippo and you wonder if he had a reality show like The Crocodile Hunter or Turtle Man, instead of realizing that St. Augustine is an important theologian that has helped shape the way we think about everything from sin to grace to the doctrine of the Trinity. Or it’s like if you hear someone mention John Bunyan and then expect them to talk about his blue ox, Babe, instead of knowing that Bunyan wrote the book The Pilgrim’s Progress – which not only helps us better understand our spiritual journey as followers of Jesus but is also the best-selling novel ever written. Which means that more people have read The Pilgrim’s Progress than any book in the Harry Potter series.


But the problem we have with Martin Luther isn’t that we confuse him with reality TV stars or fictional characters from American folklore. The problem we have with Martin Luther is that we confuse him with the Civil Rights icon, Martin Luther King Jr. But Martin Luther King Jr. became the face and the leader of the Civil Rights movement in America in the 1950s while Martin Luther made his contributions to the history of the church in Germany in the early 1500s.


Martin Luther was born in 1483, and 18 years later – in 1501 – he did what most kids today do when they turn 18, he headed off to college where he initially wanted to become a lawyer. But a few years later, in 1505, Luther had an experience that changed his life forever. Luther got caught in an intense storm and he legitimately feared for his life. So he made a vow that if God helped him survive the storm he would become a monk. And that’s exactly what he did.


But when I say that Martin Luther became a monk, I’m not telling you that he became the stereotypical monk. Martin Luther didn’t live a quiet, contemplative life in a monastery where he was cut off from the rest of the world. Instead, Luther’s life was a whirlwind of activities that ultimately ended up shaping the course of history.


You see, after Luther became a monk he continued to study and eventually earned a Doctorate in Theology and he would be appointed as a professor at the University of Wittenberg, where he taught Biblical studies. As a professor, Luther spent countless hours preparing lectures, studying the Bible, and reading other theological texts, so that he could do a better job teaching his students. But his role as an educator was just the tip of the iceberg.


In addition to teaching, Luther was also an avid writer and translator. His works included 2,300 sermons, 600 lectures, and he was the first person to translate the Bible into German. But Luther’s writings weren’t just scholarly exercises; they were fierce, eloquent, and powerful calls for reform and renewal within the Catholic Church. And it’s one of these writings, his 95 Theses, that made Martin Luther quite possibly the most important person in church history in the last thousand years.


Now, the 95 Theses were 95 things that Luther thought the Catholic Church was doing wrong. And his biggest complaints were that the Catholic Church had come to rely too much on church tradition instead of believing that the Bible was the ultimate authority for Christians to follow, and he also believed the Catholic Church was engaging in some practices that made it seem like someone could earn or even buy their way into heaven instead of teaching that our salvation comes from faith in Christ alone. 


So Luther wrote down all of his complaints and he nailed them to the doors of a church in Wittenberg, Germany that essentially acted like a community bulletin board. And Luther hoped that other people would come and read what he wrote so that they could debate what was happening in the church and come up with ways that they could make things better.


But that’s not exactly what happened. Instead of starting a debate that would help the church, most of the leaders in the church at the time thought Luther was flat-out wrong. And within a couple of years of writing his 95 Theses, Luther was called to participate in the Diet of Worms – which isn’t some really gross weight loss plan. The word diet actually means “appointed day” so the Diet of Worms was day that was appointed for Martin Luther to come to a city in Germany called Worms where he stood trial for heresy.


But even though Luther was found guilty of heresy at the Diet of Worms and kicked out of the church, he didn’t back down from what he believed. Luther continued to preach and teach and he ultimately became the driving force behind the Protestant Reformation, which led to a lot of Christians splintering off from the Catholic Church to form their own denominations…so without Martin Luther we wouldn’t be sitting here in a Baptist church today.


But what does any of this have to do with us? I mean, if you’re a history buff like I am, it might be interesting to learn about Martin Luther. But, if you’re not into history all of that information probably bored you to tears. But one way or the other, none of us seem to have much in common with Martin Luther. So what can we possibly learn from him?


Well, even though it might seem like we don’t have anything in common with one of church history’s most influential people, that’s not entirely true. You see, Martin Luther had a problem that most of us continue to struggle with today. No matter how busy he may have been, Luther always seemed to fit more in his life.


Let me give you an example of what I mean. So we’ve already covered that Luther worked as a preacher and a professor. We talked about some of his writings, which not only included his 95 Theses but also included around 40 hymns, and enough lectures and sermons to fill a 55-volume set. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of everything Luther did during the Protestant Reformation.


So when you think about everything that Luther did as a preacher, teacher, writer, and reformer; it would seem like he couldn’t fit anything else into his life. But in 1527, when the Bubonic plague hit Wittenberg, Germany, he opened up his own home to care for people who got sick. And remember, this is the Bubonic plague that we’re talking about here – seven out of every ten people who got sick with the Bubonic plague died. And Martin Luther opened his doors to take care of them.


So, yes, no matter how busy he was, Martin Luther always seemed to fit more into his life. And a lot of us think we can do the same thing. A lot of us believe that no matter how full our lives seem, we can always fit more in.

No matter how full our lives seem, we can always fit more in.

And the crazy thing is that we think we can actually keep up with everything we try to cram into our lives. We think that if we agree to take on a big project at work we’re still going to be able to pick up our kids from school. We think that if we let our kids take up another extracurricular activity we’re still going to be able to have dinner as a family at night. We think that if just answer a few emails after we finish dinner we’re still going to be able to spend quality time with our families.


But that’s not the case. No matter how hard we try to keep up with everything in our lives, something always ends up on the back burner. And for a lot of us, when we get busy we put God on the back burner. 

When we get busy we put God on the back burner.

And notice that I said we because I do it too. When my life gets too busy one of the first areas where I start slipping is in my relationship with God. And I know that sounds a little strange to hear a pastor say because my whole career revolves around God, but it’s true. When we go through seasons in the church where I make a lot of hospital visits or officiate a lot of funerals, my relationship with God slips. When we’re going through a busy time of year, like Christmas or Easter, where it feels like we have special events or activities happening every week I don’t spend as much time praying or reading my Bible as I should. When I’ve had a tough week getting a sermon written, I find myself spending more time during our worship services thinking about what I’m going to say than focusing on worshiping God.


And the same thing happens to you. When you’re out all day on Saturday at one of your kid’s soccer tournaments, it’s easy to skip church on Sunday. When you’re so busy that you don’t even have time to crack open the latest Colleen Hoover or John Grisham book, it’s easy to leave your Bible sitting on a shelf. When you’re working so late that it feels like you barely talk to your spouse, it’s easy to stop talking to God.


And this is where we can all learn something from Martin Luther. Because even though a lot of us put God on the back burner when our lives get busy, Martin Luther didn’t. One of his most famous quotes is actually, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”


So how is it that no matter how busy he got Luther was able to spend so much time in prayer? Well, we can find the answer to that question in one of Luther’s favorite passages of scripture. So if you’ve got a Bible close by or a Bible app on your phone, go ahead and open it to Psalm 46. 


And, as you’re finding Psalm 46, I want to point out that the book of Psalms was kind of like a hymnal for the people of Israel. Psalms is a compilation of songs and poetry that the people of Israel used in worship. So just like a lot of us have our favorite hymns, a lot of people have their favorite Psalms as well.


And there is no doubt that Martin Luther’s favorite Psalm was Psalm 46, because Luther used it as the inspiration for the most famous hymn he ever wrote – “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” So what does Psalm 46 say that helped Luther make time for God in his busy life? Well, let’s take a look at it together. Here’s what it says:


1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.


4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.


8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.


Psalm 46:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version)


Now, these verses remind us of who God is. God is the one who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them. But God isn’t just a great God who created everything, God is also a God who cares about us and walks beside us. God is our refuge. God is our strength. God is present in our troubles. God is with us.


But the problem is that sometimes we forget who God is.

Sometimes we forget who God is.

And when we forget who God is, it’s easy to put him on the back burner. So if we want to make time for God even when our lives get busy, we can’t forget who God is. Because the God who created the heavens and the earth and everything in them – including you – wants to spend time with you.


And when you realize that, the next part of Psalm 46 makes way more sense. Because in Psalm 46:10, God tells us:


10 ‘Be still, and know that I am God!’


Psalm 46:10 (New Revised Standard Version)


When we remember who God is, our natural reaction should be to eliminate distractions, to clear our schedules, and to make time for God in our lives. 


And this fits right in with the advice that Martin Luther once gave his barber of all people, a man named Peter Beskendorf, back in 1535. Apparently at some point when Luther went in for a haircut, his barber asked for Luther's advice when it came to prayer. And Luther responded by writing an open letter titled, A Simple Way to Pray. In it, he wrote, ‘It is of great importance that the heart be made ready and eager for prayer… What else is it but tempting God when your mouth babbles and the mind wanders to other thoughts?’


Then he gives an example of a priest praying while he gets distracted with every other line. This is how that prayer goes:


God be my helper. Farmhand, did you unhitch the horses? Lord, make haste to help me. Maid, go out and milk the cow. Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Hurry up, boy, I wish the malaria would take you!


And he goes on to offer this simple yet priceless advice:


So, a good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention, and eyes on the razor and hair and does not forget how far he has gotten with his shaving or cutting. If he wants to engage in too much conversation or let his mind wander or look somewhere else he is likely to cut his customer’s mouth, nose, or even his throat. Thus if anything is to be done well, it requires the full attention of all one’s senses and members, as the proverb says, ‘He who thinks of many things, thinks of nothing and does nothing right.’ How much more does prayer call for concentration and singleness of heart if it is to be a good prayer!


If we want to make sure that God doesn’t end up on the back burner when our lives are overbooked, we can learn a lot from Martin Luther. Because the trick to making God a priority in your life no matter what else may be happening is to remember who God is. And when you remember who God is, you will naturally want to slow down, to be still, and simply be with God.


So in all of the chaos and commotion that can fill your life, don’t lose sight of who God is. God made you. God loves you. God is with you. And God wants you to be with him too.

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